Berlin - A medical doctor who was an orphan in Vietnam has become the first person of Asian origin to be appointed a German cabinet minister.

Philipp Roesler has been named to take over as health minister in Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative government, which is due to be sworn in on Wednesday.

At 36, the up-and-coming lawmaker in the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) is also the youngest member of the 16-member cabinet.

'He's got exactly the new drive one needs in the screwed up health system in order to achieve a better result,' said FDP leader Guido Westerwelle.

As successor to outgoing Social Democrat Ulla Schmidt, Roesler will oversee a budget of 4.43 billion euros (6.6 billion dollars) for a cumbersome health system his party wants to reform.

Roesler was born in February 1973 in Khanh Hoa, South Vietnam, while the Vietnam War was still going on.

He was living in a Catholic orphanage when a German couple adopted him through a children's relief organization. He was nine months old when he came to Germany.

When he was four, his adoptive parents separated and Roesler was raised by his father, a professional soldier. He studied medicine in Hanover and also served as a combat medic in the German armed forces.

A member of the FDP youth wing since 1992, Roesler joined the party executive in 2005 and, a year later, was elected chairman of the regional party in the state of Lower Saxony.

In February 2009, he was appointed the state's minister for economy, labour and transport, as well as becoming deputy to the state's prime minister, Christian Wulff.

A practising Catholic, Roesler has been married for six years to his wife, Wiebke, also a doctor. The couple has 1-year-old twin girls, Grietje and Gesche.

Political allies speak of him as 'lucid and intelligent,' while rivals have been known to refer to him disparagingly as 'the Chinese,' media reports said.

Roesler himself said that as a child he was already aware his Asian features made him look different to other children. But he was encouraged by his father not to let it bother him.

His Vietnamese roots never interested him until after he got married, he said in a recent interview.

His wife eventually persuaded him to travel to the land of his birth with her in 2006 so they could later tell their children about the country where their father was born.